The West Virginia Public Service Commission on Tuesday gave three coal-burning power plants an extended lease on life that will be paid for by the state's electric power customers.
The decision means the John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell power plants can remain in operation beyond 2028 to as far as 2040.
West Virginia ratepayers will be responsible for covering the $448 million cost of upgrading the plants to keep them in line with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Kentucky and Virginia regulators declined to impose on their ratepayers any cost of keeping the plants open beyond 2028.
Supporters of extending the lives of the plants, particularly the West Virginia Coal Association, said the number of jobs they support and the tax base they provide to communities outweighed the increase in monthly power costs for consumers.
Consumer and environmental groups, as well as large industrial users of electricity, said power bills have gone up enough and make it harder to attract new residents and economic development.
With the rapid changes in the economics of electric power generation, as well as potentially stricter regulations on fossil fuels from the federal government in the coming years, there's no guarantee any of the plants will operate until 2040. American Electric Power executives acknowledged this during recent testimony to the commission.
The company had sought a decision from the commission by Wednesday. That was the deadline for AEP affiliates Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power to declare that they would proceed with the upgrades at the three plants or announce their retirement in 2028.
In addition the upgrades needed for EPA compliance, the commission's order on Tuesday said West Virginia ratepayers would be responsible for covering any operating and maintenance costs for the plants beyond 2028.
In their testimony, AEP officials declined to provide an estimate of such costs.